March 24 click is not as a notable day in history as the 25th when in 1911 the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire happened. Yet in 1944 the "Great Escape" by British officers from a German POW camp took place. One year later was the date of "Operation Varsity". click .
To qualify for the free conducted tour of Europe that I was enjoying(?), I had to train on the obstacle course, go through the infiltration course and even, though a doctor, had to be proficient on a weapon. That I did with the BAR.
On March 24,1945 the Allied forces in Europe engaged in the largest airborne action ever.
Montgomery was in command of what was to be the first trans-Rhine advance on German soil. He was amassing a tremendous number of heavy artillery on the west bank. The initial crossing, after the heaviest artillery bombardment and air attack of the war, was to be made by British Commando forces.
Simultaneously, as the 17th seized the crossings over the Wessel River, the British Army and the American 9th would cross the Rhine on pontoon bridges to join these forces. “Varsity” was a well planned operation. Unfortunately for Monty, a few days earlier Patton’s forces were able to unexpectedly seize the bridge at Remagen and beat him into Germany proper.
Over a decade ago I wrote at my kids insistence some of my WWII experiences. This is an excerpt from that document:
Holland had been the first daytime airborne operation, but “Varsity”, using the 17th and the British 6th Airborne, was the first (and last) time that gliders landed in an area not previously secured by parachutists. Obviously, we were very lucky since my group missed the severe fire fighting.
For the first time the operation called for the use of a double tow of gliders pulled by C46s instead of the customary C47 single tow. My Jeep was in one glider and the medical supply trailer in the adjacent one. Four men plus a pilot and co-pilot were in each. I rode in the Jeep with my driver and two aid men. About halfway to the drop zone we ran into rough air and were forced to retie the Jeep's restraining ropes. That was difficult since there was little room and we had to lie on the jeep to reach down the sides. When flack appeared below and shrapnel flew around us, I was happy to have the Jeep's steel floor instead of just the glider's plywood floor under me. , we missed our DZ and landed on the wrong far side of the Wessel Canal. Since the Germans were waiting with 88mm cannon, every one who landed in our designated DZ was killed. One of the two medical officers for the 2nd battalion was a casualty.
The glider came to a stop in a plowed field. Before we could move, or even breathe a sigh of relief, the glider pilot and co-pilot dashed for the cover of the woods, climbing over the Jeep and us and out the door. During “Varsity” (Wessel), the glider pilots were to rendezvous and form a temporary infantry company, instead of heading to the rear ASAP. They defended an important cross road from counter attack.
We lifted the nose and drove the Jeep out of the glider over to the other glider with the trailer. Due to the plowed ground, we had difficultly lifting the nose and pulling the trailer out of the glider. While we were occupied, a German soldier came out of the woods dangling aluminum anti-radar foil from upraised hands. I could not be sure that he wished to surrender. I told my men to scatter, and to this day, I insist that they "scattered" in a straight line behind me. However, he was a youngster who was overwhelmed by the airborne assaults and had enough of the war.
We had no idea where we were. Nothing resembled what I had studied on the aerial photo maps. I showed the German where we wanted to be. He pointed out where we were; on the wrong side of the canal. He agreed to lead us to the canal and to a crossing near the farmhouse. I could see no other choice.
Being lazy, I “permitted” him to carry my heavy medical bag and field pack. With my “captive" as guide we took off in file, the jeep towing the trailer, supposedly in the direction of the Wessel Canal .
We reached what look like an overgrown brook and followed a dirt road on the bank for a short distance. Suddenly, we noticed American soldiers lying prone sheltered by the canal's near bank. It was our A Company whose Captain yelled out “Doc get down. We are in the midst of a fire fight”. However, we had heard no shots, so we went down the bank, waded across the ankle high "canal" and up the other side while the Jeep and trailer went over a little bridge. We soon reached our destination, a farmhouse that had been designated for use as our aid station where we rejoined Irby and the rest of the section."